LigniOx Technology Converts Lignin By-Products from Pulp Mills into Concrete Plasticizers

VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland has developed the LigniOx technology capable of converting lignin by-products from pulp mills and various other biorefineries into concrete plasticizers that have the potential to compete with the lignosulphonate and synthetic-based admixtures on the market.

The technology will be scaled-up, following which the lignin-based concrete admixtures will be produced with industrial partners in the LigniOx project, a Bio-Based Industries Joint Undertaking project functioning under EU's Horizon 2020.

Credit: VTT Technical Research Centre

Cooperation allows the market entry and commercial-scale production of first products within a few years. Despite the fact that plasticizers account for less than one percent of concrete, their international market is enormous, roughly 10 million tons per year. Besides concrete plasticizer, LigniOx lignins can also be employed as dispersing additives, for example, in coatings, paints and in the manufacture of gypsum products.

Concrete is considered to be the most used construction material, and improved workability of fresh concrete must be guaranteed without compromising the strength of matured concrete. The LigniOx plasticizers allow the use of a minimal amount of water, generating a highly workable concrete capable of hardening into a strong final product.

In fresh concrete, the LigniOx lignin functions noticeably better than a commercial lignosulphonate-based plasticizer and also competes with a few of the synthetic superplasticizers. The lignin oxidation process is simple to incorporate into the presently available biorefineries due to compatible and safe bulk chemicals.

Additionally, VTT will develop its technology along with a machine supplier, bioethanol producers, a pulping company and a chemical company. The participants include: VTT (project coordinator), Andritz (Finland), St1 (Finland), VITO (Belgium), Metsä Fibre (Finland), CIMV (France), Biochemtex (Italy), Dow (Germany), Exergy (United Kingdom) and Vertech Group (France).

During the project, a mobile pilot unit will be developed, and the process technology will be scaled-up, thus leading to a demonstration at the biorefineries using different technical lignins. LigniOx-based concrete plasticizer admixtures will first be formulated, and then their performance will be established in field tests. After the project, the environmentally friendly and techno-economically viable lignin upgrading technology will be all set for installations of commercial scale. New cost-competitive and sustainable lignin-based, high-performance concrete plasticizers will be launched into the market soon after that.

Overall volume of the 4 year-long LigniOx project is EUR 5.6 Million.

The Bio-Based Industries Joint Undertaking is a EUR 3.7 billion Public-Private Partnership working under EU's Horizon 2020, and it is administered by the Vision and Strategic Innovation and Research Agenda (SIRA) developed by the industry. The project received funding from the Bio-Based Industries Joint Undertaking under the European Union's Horizon 2020 research and innovation program under grant agreement No 745246.

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